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Autoimmune Diseases

The number of people suffering from autoimmune diseases is steadily increasing. There are currently over 60 known diseases that can be attributed to a malfunctioning immune system. They are among the most common chronic diseases, affecting between five to eight percent of the world’s population.


In this article, Silvia Bürkle, from a scientific point of view, sheds light on the possible causes of autoimmune diseases and the role that nutrition can play.

What is an autoimmune disease?


The human immune system is our defense army, which normally fends off bacteria, viruses, foreign bodies and other pathogens. In a healthy person, only those antibodies and defense cells are on patrol in the blood and tissues that are directed against foreign cells, harmful substances and against the body’s own diseased cells. However, this protective mechanism can be disturbed. For unknown reasons, the immune system of affected people classifies the body’s own tissue as a dangerous pathogen. The body then forms antibodies or defense cells against the body’s own structures. This attack against the supposed foreign body leads to severe inflammatory reactions that can even damage organs. Thus, virtually any body organ or organ system can be affected by an autoimmune disease, from the hair root cell to the heart.


Autoimmune diseases with many faces


Basically, a distinction is made between three forms, namely organ-specific and systemic autoimmune diseases. In addition, a third variant is a mixture of these two forms of appearance – the so-called intermediate autoimmune diseases.


Organ-specific autoimmune disease is the most common form. Individual organs are attacked by an overreaction of the immune system and tissue is destroyed, with a well-known example being type 1 diabetes. The body’s defenses destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin. This group of autoimmune diseases also includes hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, to name but a few.


In a systemic autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks different organ systems or body structures. This group of autoimmune diseases includes: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus (butterfly rash), inflammation of the vessels (systemic vasculitides) etc.


Causes of autoimmune diseases


Why someone develops an autoimmune disease is still largely unclear. In addition to viral infections, epigenetic factors such as vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and possibly premature contact with gluten and/or milk protein are also possible triggers. Vitamin D deficiency is coming more and more into focus, especially because it prevents the increased release of lymphocytes and reduces the production of cytokines that stimulate the immune system. An adequate supply of vitamin D could be a protective factor for certain autoimmune diseases.


It is also noticeable that autoimmune diseases and intestinal problems often occur together. This may also be due to the fact that about 70 percent of the immune cells are located in the intestine. The theory pursued by the scientists is that gluten or gliadin may damage the intestinal mucosa, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream unhindered from the digestive tract, which puts the immune system on permanent alert.


Unspecific symptoms


Many autoimmune diseases initially manifest in diffuse symptoms that affect both physical and mental well-being. For example, Crohn’s disease usually causes diarrhea, rheumatoid arthritis makes the joints ache, psoriasis leads to skin changes, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis upsets the metabolism. Typical early signs of autoimmune diseases are sudden and very intense mood disorders, such as constant tiredness, aching and swollen joints, digestive problems and abdominal pain, recurring fever and also skin rashes.


Nutrition and exercise


In general, many symptoms of an autoimmune disease, such as mental disorders, weight gain or reduced mobility in rheumatoid diseases, can be effectively improved by targeted therapeutic exercise and sports. A change in diet can be useful, as some foods inhibit or promote the production of inflammatory substances. For example, avoiding meat and eggs often has a positive effect, as less arachidonic acid is absorbed. An excess of arachidonic acid is converted into inflammatory messengers in the body. However, high-quality vegetable oils or fish with a high content of unsaturated fatty acids should be incorporated into the diet more often, as they may help to alleviate inflammatory reactions. The Metabolic Balance nutrition plan can be the ideal solution, as it can be adapted to each individual.


Since the mental wellness also has a positive influence on the immune system, stress should be reduced. In this case, relaxation exercises, meditation or yoga may help. The aim is to strengthen the body and mind and improve the quality of life through a holistic healthy lifestyle. Only a body that is “in balance” offers less exposure to diseases.

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